'Aid in Dying' supporters vow to help Hawaii's terminally ill

By Lara Yamada
Published On: Nov 12 2012 06:28:00 PM HST

You've probably heard of "Assisted Suicide" or as supporters call it: "Aid In Dying." But you may not realize it's already being practiced here in Hawaii.

HONOLULU -

"In the end of February, it was discovered I had kidney cancer," said hospice care worker Dorothy Haden, who has stage four cancer.

"I tried to live my life with dignity, and I do want to end my life with dignity," said former lawmaker Earnest Juggie Heen, who has liver and pancreatic cancer.

Both said they want to choose how and when they end their lives.

"It's our position that aid in dying is legal and it can be incorporated into medical practice legitimately here in Hawaii," said Barbara Coombs Lee, who is the president of Compassion and Choices, a national non-profit organization that supports aid in dying. She returned to Hawaii in early November, one year after a small group of Hawaii doctors first prescribed life-ending medication to a terminally ill patient.

"Hawaii has a constellation of laws that have never really criminalize aid in dying," she said.

She said in the past year, 31 people have inquired about aid in dying, seven qualified to receive medication, and four were actually prescribed it, but she said all four died of natural causes before taking that prescription.

"People just want the comfort. They just want peace of mind," she told KITV4 reporter Lara Yamada.

What opponents call assisted suicide is legal in three states: Oregon, Washington and Montana. Massachusetts included it on the ballot in 2012, but voters shot it down. Hawaii's attorney general said he considers it manslaughter, but has yet to prosecute any physicians in the state.

"There has never been in the history of the United States a physician who has been successfully prosecuted for providing a terminally ill, mentally competent person with medication that they could take to die," said Coombs Lee.

Affirmation, she says, that this movement will continue to grow.

"At some point I may have to make that choice," said Hayden.

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